Pickerel Lake near Emerald Island, Quetico – October 6, 2013
I walked the highway between French River and the entrance to Quetico, a mile and a half of pavement and speeding cars. Diesel engines exploded a few feet from me as they roared past at 70 miles an hour. Highway signs towered above my head, bigger than you imagine them through a windshield. They pointed to distant towns, warned of moose, and pleaded with people to stop throwing out trash.
A side road and an empty parking lot brought me to Quetico’s entrance station. Dark lights and locked doors greeted me. A sign hung in the window.
“Closed for the season,” it said.
I saw a box of self-service envelopes and a sharpened pencil. I filled one out, scribbling my name on one line and “none” in the box for a vehicle license plate. I smiled, shoved the envelope into a box, and dragged the boat down to the water.
A giant cell tower hung over the north end of French Lake. It rose next to the highway tracing the park’s edge. I wondered how long it would take to disappear behind me, how far into Quetico I’d paddle before I left the blinking light behind. Then I wondered if AT&T had finished building its counterpart on the edge of the Boundary Waters to the south and I thought of Rolf and his hand balled into a fist as he told me how little wilderness is left and how we’re carving into it piece by piece.
I slipped out on the water, turned my back to the tower, and paddled toward the wind.
The groan of cars echoed across the lake from the the highway. Stacked rental canoes peeked at me from a far beach. I slipped into a small stream and turned away, disappearing into a forest of spruce and pine until Pickerel lake opened up in front of me.
It stretched long and wild. Nothing had been built on it. Only the sound of wind raced over the water. Low, grey clouds hung across the sky, breaking apart in glowing white seams of light. Trees rose off granite rocks.
The highway was gone. Cities were gone. Civilization was gone.
I slipped further in, sliding back in time, disappearing into one of the last wild pockets of the world.